On Friday morning, Dec. 14, most Americans were either contemplating last minute Christmas gifts or deeply involved in a divisive debate over how to avoid the fiscal cliff. Then suddenly, the nation found itself united in grief, joined by people around the world.
They were responding to the unthinkable act that has brought the nation to its knees at Christmas time and caused the President to cry. That is when 20 children and seven women at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., were brutally murdered – all shot multiple times – by a 20-year-old gunman who then killed himself.
"The majority of those who died today were children – beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them – birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own. Among the fallen were also teachers – men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams," President Obama detailed the tragedy as tears streaked his face in the White House Press Room Dec. 14.
"As a nation, we have endured far too many of these tragedies in the last few years," he continued on his Weekly Radio Address that evening. "An elementary school in Newtown. A shopping mall in Oregon. A house of worship in Wisconsin. A movie theater in Colorado. Countless street corners in places like Chicago and Philadelphia. Any of these neighborhoods could be our own. So we have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this. Regardless of the politics."
Political observers have described the Sandy Hook massacre as a "tipping point" for President Obama and Congress to finally discuss the gun control issue as well as mental health issues.
It is clear by his words that this incident will be the impetus to action. Speaking at an Inter-faith Prayer Vigil in Newtown Sunday night, he promised to take swift action.
"In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens – from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators – in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. Because what choice do we have? We can't accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?"
Gun lobbies, including the politically powerful National Rifle Association, will no doubt oppose new gun laws, giving their usual argument for the Second Amendment and that it is people – not guns – that kill people. Still others will argue that the key is keeping the guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. It is not clear what affect new gun laws could have on the homicides in city streets that's killed hundreds of thousands since the FBI started counting homicides in the early 1970s.
Early this week, authorities said they were finding "very good evidence" in their search for a motive in the Sandy Hook killings, according to widespread reports. The questions are why Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, a former teacher at Sandy Hook; then took multiple weapons that legally belonged to her and shot his way into the locked elementary school. He then killed the school principal, Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, five other teachers and administrators and 20 children. By the time the killing spree was over, 28 were dead, including Adam Lanza.
He was widely described as "troubled" by friends and acquaintances interviewed by the news media. Multiple sources told the New York Daily News that he had Asperger's syndrome or a personality disorder; that he had a tortured mind, was subject to outbursts and had a condition that caused him not to be able to feel physical pain. A former babysitter told CNN that his mother once warned him never to turn his back on the young Adam. At that time, he was about 10.
The Sandy Hook massacre comes at the end of a year with multiple mass killings. In fact, Friday's news eclipsed reports on a random shooting in an Oregon mall in which a 22-year-old killer shot and killed two people before killing himself. Police said his gun jammed, preventing more deaths. And then there was the Aurora, Col. movie theatre massacre on July 20 that killed 12 people.
President Obama pointed out that this is the fourth time during his administration that he has had to comfort grieving loved ones after mass shootings. That also includes the Jan. 8, 2011 shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford by Jared Loughner, who remains incarcerated. Six people died and 13 were injured in that shooting at a Tucson political gathering in a grocery store parking lot. On August 5, White supremacist Wade Michael Page killed six people at the Sikh Temple of Oak Creek, Wis. before killing himself.
President Obama has become known for his compassion amidst crisis – not only following mass shootings, but in disasters such as his recent visit to New Jersey in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Seeking to comfort the families gathered at Sunday evening's prayer vigil he spoke these words: "...Do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away...inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands."
Closing his speech by calling the names of each of the children, he continued to focus on the responsibilities of those people left behind: "God has called them all home. For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on, and make our country worthy of their memory. May God bless and keep those we've lost in His heavenly place. May He grace those we still have with His holy comfort. And may He bless and watch over this community, and the United States of America."